Top Tastes

Top Tastes, rather than a list of all-time favorites (another thing altogether), are among the best eats since my last newsletter, often from new openings. Many don’t make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.


Parada’s bright, welcoming space

Parada 22Finally, there’s a new place around the corner from me (granted, I’ve only lived in the neighborhood a few months but I’ve long kept close tabs on all SF ‘hoods and Upper Haight has never been a restaurant mecca).  The space is bright aquamarine with classic South American jazz over the speakers and a Puerto Rican menu focus with Cuban influences.

An adorable eatery where ordering at the counter and eating at a picnic tables equals a relaxed vibe. Eventually, we’re supposed to be able to order sangria from next door Cha Cha Cha, which will make it a party. In the meantime, they make a fine Cubano ($9), with traditional pork, sweet ham, pickle, Swiss cheese, mustard (though still I prefer a couple others, like Ironside or Chan Chan Cafe Cubano). I’ve been twice but they’ve been out of Pernil Asado (confit-like roasted pork), which is supposed to be one of their best dishes. My favorite after two visits is Camarones a la Criolla ($11.50): sauteed shrimp, tomato and onions in a light pepper cream sauce. They serve near perfect Maduros (plantains – $4.50), along with other heartwarming sides of red or white beans in sofrito-based sauces.

Jicama Salad at Tacobar

Tacobar – This new corner spot on Fillmore St. suffers from Pac Heights prices for solid but not Mission-worthy Tacos ($4.75 each – add a layer of fried chicharron cheese or chipotle guacamole for an extra $1.65; already included in the vegetarian taco). What I actually preferred was Jicama Ensalada ($4.95) with crisp jicama, grapefruit wedges, dry-roasted peanuts, avocado, cilantro. The nuttiness of the peanuts, bright citrus and creamy avo transformed the jicama into something more. Esquites ($4.85), a cup of white corn cooked with espazote herb, cotija cheese, lime, ancho chile powder, was a twist on classic Elote, but not worth the price. In-house ice creams include Tequila ($3.95), creamy and boozy, while I couldn’t taste the corn in Sweet Corn.

Kingdom of Dumplings’ yummy onion cakes

Kingdom of Dumplings – Making one of the better Onion Cakes around, their Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai soup dumplings) may not be the best, but they still satisfy (I prefer South City’s Xiao Long Bao Kitchen). I find their regular dumplings more addictive with varied stuffing options (like fresh corn and pork), also available in amounts of 30 to take home and cook. A perk at this unassuming, tiny eatery is you can fill up for less than $10 a person.

TCHO Chocolate Shop – I was privileged to take a private tour of the factory, which included stories and photos of the transformation of Pier 17 into a chocolate factory focused on bars that let varied tasting notes in the chocolate speak for themselves (nutty, fruity, etc…) I hadn’t been in their tiny shop before and was pleased to find it’s open daily selling their bars, new chocolate-dipped mango bits, and a dark, rich Drinking Chocolate that comes in shots with or without Blue Bottle Coffee. Bliss.

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Lavash’s Adas Polo

Lavash – This Persian neighborhood restaurant in the Inner Sunset, makes you feel at home from gracious staff to beckoning fireplace. In earthy tones reminiscent of an Italian villa, it’s a peaceful place to fill up on Aash-e Reshteh (Persian noodle soup) or Sabzi Panir ($6.50): herbs and greens (mint, cilantro, basil) piled next to hunks of feta, grapes, walnuts and lavash bread. Adas Polo ($14.95) is my recommend, though it’s costly for a rice and chicken dish. At least there’s a generous amount of dates, raisins, onions,  basmati rice, lentils, cinnamon, orange peel, saffron and hunks of tender, if not overly flavorful, chicken. The dish comforted – and made for three lunches, not just one. Lavash is pricey compared to other Middle Eastern fare, but as a Persian restaurant, it’s a rarity, with a calming, refined atmosphere.

Morph’s hip, youthful space

Morph – Like a sleek, little eatery you’d find in Tokyo or Bangkok, this brand new Richmond restaurant is slick with white chairs, playful lighting, and TV screens flashing the time around the globe. It’s nice to have more hip environs in which to eat Asian food (compared to much of what is in the area), even though portions run tiny, at least on the appetizers I ordered. Superstar server, Lek, made me feel so welcome, explaining the chefs’ marriage of his native Thailand with Japanese influences.

Morph’s Chicken Curry Pancake

A free shot of Tom Yum soup got its Japanese infusion with miso added to the broth, while a minuscule, but strikingly-presented Spicy Crab Salad ($9) – minus any spice – was mixed with corn and water chestnuts, plus little sesame shells to scoop it up. Apple Salad ($8) was thick, julienned apple with cherry tomato, carrot, red onion and a couple strips of salmon skin to add crunch. Like the Crab Salad, portions were small and the taste pleasant, though not memorable. The stand-out was Yellow Curry Chicken in a Pancake ($11 – or with tofu) with broccoli and a bit of cucumber. Aromatic curry moistens the thick, doughy, delectable crepe/pancake… my one “top taste” from this new spot.

Gialina’s heartwarming Amatriciana

With the sweetest service and unique for the area, I want to find more to love here. Tell me if you do.

Gialina – Pizza at this Glen Park superstar is far from new news, although I’m excited for their second restaurant to open nearer to me on Divisadero this Fall. Returning (hadn’t been in quite awhile) recently on a low-key Monday night (and despite lackluster service), I was reminded all over again why Gialina’s pizzas are awesome: the Amatriciana ($16) was sheer pleasure with an egg on top of sweet tomato sauce, pancetta and pecorino romano, plus a spice kick from chile.